"Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive."
Most couples have periods of relationship difficulty and distance. Managing the many commitments to work, family, children, friends, and daily life tasks can make it difficult for couples to stay emotionally connected to each other. Frustration and irritation can mount, complicating the dynamic. Sustained conflict without tools to calm and refocus can make it difficult to get back on track. Prolonged conflict impacts the frequency and intensity of both emotional and physical intimacy. An absence of physical intimacy further deteriorates emotional closeness and connection. Tools to help couples reverse this cyclical pattern of negative behavior are essential.
Negative unhelpful beliefs are the primary reason couples run into problems. These beliefs developed in childhood or from other life experiences that have shaped expectations and fears about intimacy. Changing behaviors or communication patterns alone will rarely change the core relationship problem. Real change happens when individuals reshape the core negative beliefs that are restricting appropriate compassion and connection.
I provide couples with essential training on healthy communication patterns. Although many people know they need to improve their communication, many do not realize what behavioral changes they need to make. I find it's essential to give couples new information on the nuances of communication. Here are just a few examples:
· Avoid using “always” and “never” when discussing problems. This wording will trigger defensive reactions. It’s typically an over-generalization because rarely do any of us do something all the time.
· Avoid using “why” questions when talking about feelings such as, “why did you get so mad?” or “why do you always cry?” Why questions require a justification and therefore trigger defensiveness. We want to keep conversations exploratory and nurturing. Rather, "what" or "how" questions such as "what were you feeling?" or "what feels so overwhelming for you?"
· Avoid talking about numerous issues as once. Keep it to one topic and shelve other topics for another time. Bringing up numerous topics at once escalates conflict and overwhelms the conversation. It is often experienced as venting rather than problem-solving.
Many couples report feeling disillusioned or disappointed with their relationship. It just wasn't what they expected. In some instances, a couple may need to re-negotiate the couple contract. An approach called Behavioral Couples Therapy developed at Harvard University has been researched for over 30 years with tremendous results. Couples develop new promises to change the relationship dynamic. I encourage couples to reflect deeply about what is needed and create a new set of vows or contract. Here are some examples:
· List "out-of-bounds" statements or comments that escalate, rather than resolve conflict
· Develop a new list of home or financial responsibilities so both individuals are involved
· List the ways each individual feels cared/loved and cultivate new ways of spontaneous romantic giving
Meditation is yet another tool I use to help couples cultivate calm, focused, relaxed energy which can stabilize behavior cycles. What is meditation? Meditation is any behavior which is done in a state of attentive mindfulness, relaxation, and focus.
How does meditation help? Research suggests that meditation helps reduce blood pressure, stress, and heart-rate while increasing mental alertness, clarity, and attention. During times of interpersonal conflict, heart rate and stress levels escalate, making it difficult to remain calm and focused. During conflict, however, couples principally need to slow down their reactivity, listen, and focus on the present moment, i.e., listen to what is being said and what one is saying/feeling. Meditation can help people calm themselves and mindfully attend. Meditation can also help people calmly observe behavior, rather than personalize and identify with it.
I use meditation tools to help individuals reflect on what they are feeling and most needing from their partner. This helps people to let go of defenses and tune-in to deeper needs. When couples understand what is being experienced, they can better reach out to meet their own as well as their partner's needs.
Meditation and mindful attention tools can also help with physical intimacy. Frequently, sexual intimacy problems are psychological. People are bogged down thinking of past experiences, prior performance problems, negative beliefs, or over-analyzing their experience. In contrast, mindfulness allows people to slowdown, focus on breath, body sensations, and shared physical experience. Just one example includes encouraging couples to focus on their own and one another's breath. This helps to focus attention to the moment. Mindful attention and focus can enhance physical intimacy and the intensity of sexual experience. Greater sexual intimacy strengthens the emotional bond and the feeling of closeness in relationship. Along similar lines, there are numerous other tools that can assist couples to let go of negative beliefs and regain their romantic intimacy.